Hopefully if you’ve been keeping up with Otaku USA then director Leiji Matsumoto, who created such classic series’ as Starblazers, Galaxy Express 999, Captain Harlock, et all and was covered extensively in our February 2008 issue, needs no introduction. Oops, I guess you just got one!
Galaxy Railways constitutes a modern (2003) entry in the great universe of Matsumoto’s creations. It appears to be rather traditional in its approach. Its characters have that classic 70’s look in which long curly brown locks dominate over shorter, spikier, blonder, more gravity-defying hair. Its story espouses age-old virtues of courage and destiny (as told by a baritone, omniscient, fatherly narrator). The main character, Manubu, has the typical obnoxious “I’m gonna try my best!!•bCrLf attitude befitting any given Shonen Jump protagonist, but he doesn’t want to want to run around beating people up or waving big swords, he just wants to be like his dad and ride around in a choo-choo train. At first glance, the only indication that this is a modern anime production is the smoother animation and somewhat more “polished•bCrLf look.
The pace is set by a dramatic introductory saga. Manabu spends the first several episodes of the series not running off on some crazy adventure or getting super cool special powers, but being stuck at home experiencing death and tragedy for years at a time. Despite any reservations you might have from the modern perspective that “omg this is corny!•bCrLf you will begin to care a bit about the series’ characters and feel bad for them.
However, once the adventure gets going, it becomes clear that Galaxy Railways is not entirely free of modern conventions, for better or for worse. Manabu joins the Galaxy Defense Force, rescuing space goers from disasters and space pirate attacks, and episodes lock into more of a formula. A regular supporting cast is introduced, including a typical female love-interest, who spends much of her time alternating between being sassy and argumentative, and being shy and awkward. Every episode has a “problem of the week•bCrLf, whether it be an interstellar traffic accident, a warp hole anomaly, or some sudden alien guerilla attack.
Just to illustrate how ridden with modern conventions the series is, you know how every anime post-1990 has to have a Tenchi-esque “bath house•bCrLf episode, where the entire cast gathers at some country home with hot springs and proceeds to act like a bunch of retards for 30 minutes, hitting each other with wooden buckets as nudity gags fly left and right? Yep. Galaxy Railways has one of those. The good news is, the series’ knack for character development is such that the episode is actually pretty amusing and even somewhat endearing.
While Galaxy Railways into lulls into a mundane, formulaic slog at times, slowing the pace to a crawl, it kicks in with drama and character development at just the right times so as to awaken you from your sleepy anime stupor. By the time the final story arc kicks in, you have begun to like most of the cast. In fact, the series has a habit of taking all the total jerk characters which you hate the most early on, and developing them over time into your favorite members of the cast•just before they’re killed them off in some tragic manner which has you screaming in your head “you stupid bastard, why did you have to die!!•bCrLf sooner than even the series’ whiny child protagonist has a chance to say it himself.
Railways introduces its final villains in a surprising manner. At first they’re unexpected and seem to come out of nowhere, but before long you realize that they’ve been influencing things behind the scenes since the series’ start. A climactic battle ensues, there are surprises along the way, and yet things do not drag on for an exorbitant amount of time. You don’t see the see the entire climax coming starting at episode 1 of the series, and once the epic final struggle gets going, things are wrapped up before you can begin to languish in a sea of filler and overdone plot twists. The ending is satisfying and succinct.
All in all, I’d imagine most fans would not consider Galaxy Railways to be Leiji Matsumoto’s pinnacle work, but it’s a decent series, and probably a good introduction to the universe. If you’ve been wondering what’s up with “that starblazer stuff•bCrLf, but you’ve been scared off because “it looks old•bCrLf, then Railways is your ticket. If you’re already a hardcore fan then I wonder if its brevity and new-fangled clichÃ©s might be a turn off, but if you can let go of the fact that it’s a modern-ish Matsumoto production, you still may enjoy it.